Steve McGill,
The Cave
(BookSurge, 2009)

Ian Pratt is a 12-year-old boy who lives with his parents and great-grandfather. His best friend is Nate Felton. Ian is a good, conscientious student; Nate not so much. Ian has long been fascinated with World War I, in which his great-great-grandfather participated and died. He and his great-grandfather often go through their collection of articles, books and letters related to The Great War.

Ian is also very curious about, and afraid of, two things: the old Butterfield Ranch, and the cave. The Butterfield Ranch is a beautiful old home that appears to be unoccupied, but is always well-maintained. But by whom? The cave is just a cave, but where does it go? What's inside? Does anyone -- or anything -- live in the cave?

So, we have bits and pieces of Ian Pratt's life and interests. Do they fit together in any way? Are the pieces interconnected? By the end of this tale, you will know that the answer is a resounding "Yes!" What ties it all together? The answer is surprising: ghosts. However, this is not a scary ghost story, or a gruesome one. It is a ghost story with heart, and with moments of triumph, blended well with grief.

This is a young-adult book, and the reader sees that most clearly in the writing. While the plot has complexity, the writing is very straightforward and concise, almost in a Hemingway-like manner. The phrasing is simple, and the vocabulary is not challenging. I make these statements as descriptions and not as criticisms. The writing style used makes for a very rapid, easy reading experience. The characters, mainly Ian, Nate and a few of the ghosts, are well-developed. There is absolutely nothing simple or straightforward about the rich, complex story, with all of its interwoven pieces and storylines. It reminds me a bit, in the way the seemingly-unrelated parts are eventually interwoven, of Louis Sachar's Holes, and the clear, direct style of writing is also on a par with Holes.

I love a story (or a piece of music) that is basically a crescendo, and The Cave definitely fits that mold. The beginning is actually a bit slow and was, for me, confusing. I could not figure out why I was reading about the disparate pieces, and I had to hold onto the hope that it would all eventually come together. It certainly did come together, and it was well worth the wait. The climax was very powerful in its depth, richness and emotional content.

The book has 185 pages, but that is a bit misleading. With the line-spacing, larger margins and extra lines between most paragraphs, plus a few blank pages between chapters (that are not numbered but do count in the numbering), this book would likely end up, if formatted more typically, at about 125-135 pages. I did not do a word-count estimate, but the book is probably more of a novella than a novel.

book review by
Chris McCallister

25 September 2010

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